Cubs

Former coach Mike Barry finds joy working with inner city kids

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Former coach Mike Barry finds joy working with inner city kids

After coaching high school, college and professional football for 37 years, Mike Barry has discovered an even more rewarding occupation -- working with hundreds of high poverty, low achievement kids in the inner city of Chicago to provide positive direction in their lives.

Barry, 65, works for the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), a Chicago-based non-profit organization that partners with the Chicago Public Schools to manage several chronically underperforming elementary and high schools.

Founded in 2001 by Martin Koldyke, a venture capitalist and founder of the Golden Apple Foundation, AUSL's mission is to turn around Chicago's most underperforming schools by improving student performance and achievement through a disciplined transformation process that is built on a foundation of specially trained teachers.

Teachers like Mike Barry. A 1964 graduate of Fenwick, he played center for John Jardine's 1962 Prep Bowl championship team. He attended Nebraska for two years, then transferred to Southern Illinois, earned a Masters degree and started coaching.

He met then SIU athletic director Gale Sayers at a golf outing in Urbana and began a coaching career that took him to SIU, Arizona, the USFL, Iowa State, Colorado, USC, Tennessee, North Carolina State and the Detroit Lions with current Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. He coached at national championship teams at Colorado and Tennessee and a Rose Bowl winner at USC.

After Marinelli was fired in 2009, Barry returned to Chicago. He planned to retire. But fate intervened. Barry was speaking at a clinic on the South Side and Phillips athletic director John Byrne asked him to speak to some elementary school youngsters in his neighborhood.

"Would you come to camp for one day and work with our offensive linemen? Would you consider working with high schools?" Byrne asked. "Orr High School on the West Side has a chance to get in the state playoff. They really liked you. You connected with their kids. Would you help them?"

Barry met the Orr coach, who asked him to take a tape home and critique it so his team could prepare for its game with Whitney Young. Barry went over the film with the Orr players, telling them what they had to do.

"The coach gave me a hat and jacket after the practice and asked me to coach the kids during their game on Friday," Barry said. "I thought I was coaching in the Rose Bowl. I was coaching the kids like it was a college game."

As it turned out, Koldyke and Bryne were in the bleachers. "Who is that white guy on the sideline?" Koldyke asked. "I want to hire him to run our athletic program." He hired Barry in February, 2011, to be the AUSL's athletic coordinator for extra-curricular sports. So much for retirement.

"I love what I'm doing, working with kids," Barry said. "We have 20 teams that play every Saturday morning in Chicago. We have football and girls volleyball in the fall, boys and girls basketball in the winter and baseball and boys and girls track and field in the spring. The difference between us and CPS is we have tackle football and hard ball in the elementary leagues."

He started with Wright Junior College, now Chicago Academy, and soon added four other high schools -- Orr, Phillips, Collins and Solario -- and 20 elementary schools.

"They are high poverty and low achievement areas. We keep gangs out of the schools. Thirteen percent of the kids are homeless. They have no address when they fill out an eligibility form. The stories remind you of Michael Oher," Barry said, referring to the Baltimore Ravens' offensive tackle who was the subject of Michael Lewis' best-selling book.

Why did Barry choose to get involved?

"I was sitting in Chicago and had had a great career, all a man could want...bowl games, national titles," he said. "But I wanted to give back to the sport that was so good to me. To see the look on these kids' faces when you give them their first set of pads and helmets or their first baseball glove, things they had never been given before, is so rewarding."

Barry points out that until AUSL came along, these kids didn't know how to play football or baseball and couldn't go to parks to participate in sports. Now, on Saturday afternoons, AUSL sponsors three football games at Douglas Park and four at Solario High School at 55th and St. Louis.

"There are little problems that these kids face on a daily basis...drugs, gangs, guns. I had to buy underwear for one kid. We feed them in the summer for lunch," Barry said. "They live it every day of their lives and we try to get them to play sports, study and eat right.

"We make them believe that they can make a difference, that they can climb out of the hole they are in, that they don't have to wait for someone else to do it. The most important thing is to persuade them to get out of bed in the morning and go to school and get an education, then play football.

"It's a constant battle with the kids. It isn't a right, it's a privilege they earn every day by going to school. Sports is a carrot for the kids, a reward at the end of the day for going to class. It keeps them out of trouble, something to do after school. It gives them a team to be a part of rather than a gang."

Barry is as motivated as he was when he played for Fenwick's championship team 50 years ago. "I get up every morning at 5 and go to exercise class so I can maintain my energy level. My goal this Saturday is for all 25 schools to show up and the buses and officials and no one to do anything goofy in the stands. I don't care who wins or loses. I want them to show up on Saturday and have fun," he said.

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.